HUNTINGTON BEACH, California — Why does Toyota even still sell the Land Cruiser, anyway? It’s not an unreasonable question to ask. After all, sales added up to a mere 3,100 in 2017, making it one of the automaker’s slowest sellers. The short answer as to why there’s a 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser, however, is that there’s no reason for there not to be one. Allow me to explain.
Like the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, the Land Cruiser has evolved way past its purpose-built roots. But while the casual observer would be hard-pressed to tell the all-new 2019 G from a 1979 one without looking inside, no such confusion is in store for the Toyota.
It hasn’t been a fast evolution. The 2018 model year is number 11 for the J200 Land Cruiser, the longest run since the J50’s 13-year stint from 1967 to 1980. And despite massive technological progress in the years since its launch, the sixth-generation Cruiser hasn’t changed all that much, and is in many ways a time capsule from the late 2000s.
Practically teleported from the Great Recession is the Land Cruiser’s 5.7-liter 3UR-FE V-8. Launched in 2007 for the Toyota Tundra and Sequoia, the naturally aspirated mill has gone unchanged since, with output staying at 381 hp and 401 lb-ft the entire time. An eight-speed automatic replaced the original six-speed in 2016, giving the old eight-cylinder a slight extension on its lease on life.
Despite the engine’s age, it does an admirable job of the primary task at hand, which is pulling 5,815-lb worth of SUV fast enough to safely accelerate into traffic. Don’t expect fast kickdowns and rapid turbo-spools when you mash the accelerator, as this is no EcoBoost-powered Ford Expedition or twin-turbo German.
Braking is basically the opposite of accelerating. The 13.9-inch front and 13.6-inch rear discs make the four 285/60R18 Dunlop Grandtrek AT20s stop spinning without undue discomfort, but you’ll want to avoid panic stops—the nose dives considerably thanks to its considerable weight and off-road-spec, hydraulically adjusted Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System.
Boosting the vintage feel is Land Cruiser’s heavy and slow steering. An asset while crawling up a mountain, it is almost laborious to work while crawling through a parking lot—and there’s a slight excess of on-center play for comfort on the freeway.
The experience isn’t entirely devoid of modernity, however. Adaptive cruise control, pre-collision warning, and automated emergency braking are standard courtesy of the Toyota Safety Sense suite, for starters. There’s also a fresh version of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system with a 9.0-inch screen, multiple exterior cameras (on offer are front, side, and rear views), heated and ventilated front seats, and wireless charging. It’s a Lexus-esque feature list befitting the Land Cruiser’s Lexus-esque $84,890 base price.
Of course, nobody buys a Land Cruiser because it has a touchscreen and can cool your pants through its leather seats. There are plenty of choices that can do that while offering a more sumptuous and compliant ride. No, the special sauce here is the Range Rover-level capability that comes with it—highlights include full-time 4WD, crawl control, locking limited-slip center differential, the suspension’s ability to disconnect the anti-roll bars, and the Multi-Terrain Select system. That the number of new Land Cruisers in Orange County that will ever see proper dirt trails is close to zero is almost beside the point.
And therein lies part of the reason behind the Land Cruiser’s continued existence: branding. The second major part? There’s no downside for Toyota. It spends $0 on marketing for the Land Cruiser. Sticking with the same engine and design has limited the need for expensive crash and emissions testing, and most of the rest of the hardware has already been long since paid for. In short, a good chunk of the hefty sticker is no-effort profit.
Still, the forces of technology are progressing and the J200 is unlikely to have much life left. Updates made for 2016 give Toyota enough reason to keep it around until around 2020 or so.
As for a “J300,” well, the brand has been releasing plenty of concepts that draw on its off-road heritage as of late, so the outlook is positive. Just don’t be surprised if it comes with a plug for electricity or a pressurized tank for hydrogen. And given its history, it’ll likely come prepared to serve at least until 2030.
2018 Toyota Land Cruiser Specifications
|PRICE||$84,890/$87,405 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||5.7L DOHC 32-valve V-8/381 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 401 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||13/18 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||194.9 x 78.0 x 74.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.8 sec|